Last Saturday, May 21st, a woman was attacked by three (maybe four) individuals outside of a 7-11 in Fredericksburg. The assault apparently occurred following a disagreement between the victim and one or two of the attackers. This act alone warrants attention and examination as to why violence is used resulting from a disagreement. However, there are circumstances to this case that warrant increased attention. The woman who was attacked identifies as Transgender.
A general definition of “transgender” taken from the Trans & Queer Wellness Initiative:
Transgender (TG): 1. An umbrella term covering behaviors, expressions and identities that challenge the binary male/female gender system in a given culture.
2. Individuals who change their gender expression without physically or medically changing their body through hormones or surgery.
3. Anyone who transcends the conventional definitions of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ and whose self-identification or expression challenges traditional notions of “male” and “female.”
-Transgender people may include transsexuals, crossdressers, drag queens and kings, genderqueers, masculine-identified females, feminine-identified males, two-spirit people, MTF’s, FTM’s, transmen, transwomen, and others who cross or transgress traditional gender categories.
*It is important to recognize that not everyone agrees on the definition of Transgender, so it is best to ask how someone identifies before assuming.
The violence experienced by the Transgender population is astronomical. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reports that, out of all of the anti-LGBTQ murders in 2009, 50% were transgender women (and 79% of the murders were of people of color; the intersection of race and gender identity compounds an individual’s risk of being assaulted).
Because of the discrimination experienced by transgender individuals, many do not seek help when assaulted. For transgender (and LGBQ individuals) there are many barriers to service that prevent Trans-Identified victims from coming forward and reporting. A study conducted in Wisconsin revealed that “of trans and intersex individuals…50% of respondents had been raped or assaulted by a romantic partner.” The first national survey on LGBTQ hate violence found that 18% of the Transgender population reported being sexually assaulted/raped and 23% reported experiencing sexual harassment. The report also revealed that “95 percent of the worst incidents involved at least 2-3 perpetrators”[i]. A study in Philadelphia found that among the seventy surveyed, 72 percent of male to female transgender individuals reported “being forced to have sex; for female to male transgender individuals, the rate of sexual abuse was 29 percent”[ii]. A 1997 study in San Francisco noted of the MTF’s surveyed, 85% reported verbal abuse because of their Transgender identity and 30% reported physical abuse [iii]. In Virginia, 74% of Transgender individuals reported experiencing hate violence; 80% of Transgender FTM, 48% of Transgender MTF [iv].
The level of sexual harassment faced by LGBTQ individuals is profound. Harassment reaches extreme levels when it comes to Transgender youth. A study of transgender youth found that nine out of ten experienced verbal harassment in school and more than half faced physical harassment[v]. Harrasment of youth continues into college as rates of harassment on college campuses and perceived harassment figure at forty-one and seventy-one percent[vi]. The effects of the harassment cause many to attempt suicide, forty-one percent [of transgender respondents] reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population, with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55%), were harassed/bullied in school (51%), had low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61%) or sexual assault (64%)” [vii]
Many homeless individuals are LGBTQ identified, especially youth. “Coming out” may mean getting kicked out of their homes. Twenty percent of homeless youth are LGBT. Once homeless they are at higher risk for victimization, mental health problems, and unsafe sexual practices; nearly sixty percent of LGBT homeless youth have been sexually victimized. LGBT homeless youth commit suicide at higher rates than heterosexual; sixty-two to twenty-nine[vii]. The situation doesn’t improve much for adults either. In a recent study it was revealed that transgender individuals were “nearly four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000/year compared to the general population”[viii].
How does this relate to RCASA and Sexual Violence?
“[Rape] is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” Susan Brownmiller wrote these words in her seminal work Against Our Will. It is important to remember that rape and sexual assault, and domestic violence are about power and control, not sex.
Many LGBTQ individuals are sexually assaulted because of their actual or perceived LGBTQ status. This is an example of what is called corrective rape. Corrective rape is a term that originated from South Africa, where lesbian women were being raped in order “cure” them of their orientation. This tactic to “straighten” out LGBTQ individuals (whether actually identify as such or not) is an unfortunate fact everywhere, not just South Africa. Sexual assault in itself can be a form of hate-crime as well.
Directly related to sexual assault, is sexual harassment. Both are about power and control and they are inherently linked. Usually when we envision sexual harassment we think of a boss propositioning a subordinate for a date and threatening termination or denying a raise (or something similar), but sexual harassment also includes actions related to one’s gender identity, gender expression (and orientation), whether it is how they identify or just the perception of how they identify.
It is an unfortunate fact that many LGBTQ victims of violence, just like victims of sexual and intimate partner violence, do not report the crimes committed against them. This is true for many reasons.
- Many communities do not have services available to adequately serve LGBTQ clients.
- Many organizations that are supposed to help their community turn a blind eye to the LGBTQ population because of their own personal biases.
- Some do not report fearful of giving the LGBTQ community a bad reputation.
- By reporting, they are “outing” themselves to the community and to family and friends.
- Laws and policies in most areas, quite frankly, aren’t effective or are totally absent for the LGBTQ identified.
- Many blame themselves. The internalized oppression seemingly inherent to a society not quite fully accepting of everyone.
- Many LGBTQ communities are tight-knit and revealing abusive behaviors within the community may disrupt it or ostracize the victim causing them to lose possibly the only “family” they have.
These barriers also make services that are available difficult to provide (and thus leading to the potential loss of funds).
So how do we prevent (sexual and intimate partner) violence against the Transgender population?
- We stop using offensive words (‘Tranny’ is the most common).
- We educate ourselves about TQI (Transgender, Queer, Intersex; I use ‘Queer’ and ‘Intersex’ here because ‘Transgender’ can mean different things to different people and ‘Intersex’ is so closely linked with ‘Transgender’, despite being different) issues.
- We acknowledge and confront privilege in ourselves and in others (this means being open-minded and listening to the voices of the Trans, as well as LGBQ, community).
- We recognize the difference between ‘sex’ and ‘gender.’
- We stop grabbing (that’s sexual assault, oh btw) or asking about, someone else’s genitalia.
- We stop treating transgender individuals like a science exhibit (you may just be curious and have good intentions, but it isn’t their job to educate you nor is it to reveal their personal lives to you and/or on your terms).
- We don’t assume, we ask and accept the answer.
- We support LGBTQ organizations, and protection policies. Presently, gender identity and expression as well or orientation are not covered in Virginia hate crimes law.
- We become effective bystander’s when we see transphobic (and homophobic, heterosexist, sexist, racist, classist, ableist; these are all connected and contribute to violence everywhere) violence being committed. Violence ends when we stand up and say “this ends now.”
RCASA stands in solidarity with LGBTQ organizations and individuals against violence everywhere regardless of gender identity, gender expression, race, class, sex, ability, religion, HIV status, political affiliation, favorite color…etc. Accepting violence anywhere is acceptance of violence everywhere.
Nobody deserves to live in fear of their safety simply for trying to be who they are.
*The Virginia Anti-Violence Project Official Statement VAVP_PressRelease_2011-05-27.
[i] “Understanding the Transgendered Community: A Technical Assistance Bulletin for Sexual Assault Counselors and Advocates.” Pensylvania Coalition Against Rape 4.2 (2007): n. pag. Web. 28 May 2011. <http://www.vawnet.org/Assoc_Files_VAWnet/UnderstandingTransCommunity.pdf>.
[ii] ActionAIDS, Inc., Unity, Inc., & University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Work. (1997). Needs assessment of transgendered people in Philadelphia for HIV/AIDS and other health and social services. Philadelphia, PA: The HIV Commission for the Philadelphia EMA, AIDS Activity Coordinating Office, and Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
[iii] “Transgender Issues: A Fact Sheet.” Transgender Law & Policy Institute n. pag. Web. <http://www.transgenderlaw.org/resources/transfactsheet.pdf>.
[iv] “The State of Violence in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Communities of Virginia.” Equality Virginia Education Fund & the Virginia Anti-Violence Project. 2008
[v] “LGBT Homeless.” National Coalition for the Homeless. 2009
[vi] “Campus climate for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people: A national perspective.” National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.2003
[vii] “Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.” National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. 2011
[viii] Ibid., 2011